As they walked down the track, the golden canopy of Lothlórien grew nearer. Lórien – with its sheltering trees, its deep sense of peace, and its warm, spring-fed pools. Estel found himself daydreaming about bathing in those pools and washing away the blood and grime that still clung to him. His scalp itched, and he longed just to be clean again.
Despite this, he was sorry to see the point where the track divided just ahead – he would be sad to say farewell to Farin and Bilbur and would miss them both. Despite the initial reserve they had all felt towards each other he had come to like the two dwarves, and the fond exasperation with which Farin and Bilbur regarded one another was very, very familiar.
A small copse of gnarled, stunted trees marked the split in the path, and as Farin and Bilbur halted there, an elf stepped from the trees. Estel raised a hand in greeting, then paused as he saw the drawn weapon. At his side, Elrohir spat a sharp curse.
“Rúmon! Stop!” Elladan shouted.
Estel and his brothers broke into a run. “He won’t kill them, will he?” Estel gasped.
“No – but Farin or Bilbur may well kill him, the idiot!” Elrohir retorted.
“And if they do not, then I probably will,” Elladan added as they reached the guard.
Rúmon glanced up at them once, then returned his scowl to the dwarves. “What are these – your prisoners?” he demanded of Elladan and Elrohir. “You would do well to keep a closer guard on them! They are still armed, ” he added in disbelief, making a grab for Bilbur’s axe.
“They are not prisoners!” Elladan snapped. He placed a restraining hand on Bilbur’s shoulder. “Wait,” he warned. “Please.” She growled something but lowered her axe.
Elrohir had placed himself between Rúmon and Farin and pushed Rúmon’s arrow aside before moving away. “Stop this madness, Rúmon! Farin and Bilbur are our friends and companions. They were our guides in Moria and do not deserve your threats and insults. They have done nothing to incur this welcome!”
“They are Naugrim!” Rúmon snarled. “They are not welcome in Lórien! If they enter it will be under armed guard, and they must be blindfolded.”
Shocked, Estel listened to the harsh exchange of words, dismayed by the turn of events and the guard’s animosity. Rúmon’s arrogance and blind prejudice horrified him, but it would have confirmed all of Náin’s mistrust and hatred of elves. He watched speechlessly, knowing there was little he could do to help the situation and wondering if his brothers could ever salvage the dwarves’ friendship and trust.
Farin stiffened, and Bilbur growled again under her breath. Elladan tightened his grip on her shoulder. “My friends,” he emphasised, “have no wish to enter Lórien. But if they did, it would be as our honoured guests.”
“Such creatures are not welcome here!”
Elladan’s expression and stance shifted subtly. Estel blinked as his brother seemed to change before his eyes. He was not sure how Elladan did it in his stained and travel-worn clothing, but suddenly his teasing, bossy, annoying older brother vanished and an Elven lord of power and majesty stood in his place.
“Not welcome?” Elladan echoed. “I am sorry to hear that. Would these be the Lord Celeborn’s orders? Or Lady Galadriel’s?”
A flicker of uncertainty crossed Rúmon’s face but he stood his ground. “Of course they are!” he blustered.
Farin growled something, and Elladan touched his arm lightly, shaking his head. “Wait,” he murmured. “I think not,” he said to Rúmon. “You know who I am – and I know my grandparents would never have given such orders. They did no such thing, did they?”
“Your grandparents?” Rúmon swallowed. “Well, no, not exactly – but they would have done, had they known you would bring such scum to Lórien!”
Estel was suddenly reminded of one of the many maxims that Erestor was fond of quoting. ‘When you are in a hole, stop digging’, his erstwhile tutor had often advised him – usually when Estel was attempting in vain to explain or excuse some misdemeanour. It would be good advice for Rúmon to heed now – the hapless elf was outnumbered and hopelessly outmatched, but lacked the wit to realise it.
Bilbur spat an unintelligible curse him. It sounded vicious and heartfelt, and Estel wondered what she had said. Elrohir evidently understood, for he hid a smile and clasped her shoulder. “Not even orcs can do that,” he murmured.
“Ha!” Bilbur had evidently had enough. She shook off Elrohir’s hand and moved close to the guard, glaring up at him. Rúmon stepped back a pace. “Is this the famed wisdom and hospitality of the elves?” she demanded, prodding him in the chest with a stubby forefinger. “Your father should have taught you better manners, and your mother should have taught you more sense! No guest would be welcomed to the halls of my fathers like this!”
Rúmon took a further step backwards as Bilbur placed a hand on her axe until he found himself against a tree. Trapped, he looked up at Elladan and Elrohir in a wordless appeal for support. They stood unmoving at Bilbur’s side, making no further attempt to restrain her. The guard’s indignant expression slowly changed as he realised he was outnumbered five to one – and that two of those five were the grandsons of his Lord and Lady. He tried to take another step back into the tree away from Bilbur, and finally lowered his eyes to escape from her fierce gaze.
“Your pardon, Master dwarf,” he said with difficulty. “I apologise. I – did not realise you were – under the protection of Lord Elladan.”
Bilbur growled again, and Elrohir moved closer to her side. “Master Bilbur,” he said with the ghost of a wink at Estel, “has no need of our protection. But in future I expect friends of Lórien to be greeted with honour. Do you understand?”
The elf gave a curt nod. “I do. My lord,” he added.
“Good. I know that you have orders to guard and protect the borders of Lórien. Caution is one thing – but such stubborn, suicidal stupidity is unforgivable! Greet the orcs who are the enemies of us all with sword and arrow, but not these dwarves whom I name elf-friends.” Elrohir paused, waiting for his words to sink in. “Now, who is your captain? Haldir? Tell him that we have returned from Moria, and that we have news which Celeborn must hear.”
Rúmon nodded curtly to Elrohir, cast another dark look at Farin and Bilbur, and then turned on his heel and fled.
Elladan watched him go. He sighed and dragged a hand through his hair, then turned back to Farin and Bilbur. “You have my deepest apologies for that,” he said quietly.
Farin glared at the guard’s rapidly retreating back and muttered something into his beard. Then, to Estel’s amazement, the dwarf chuckled. “That one would have had much in common with Náin!” he said, echoing Estel’s own thoughts. “Perhaps it’s as well they never met.”
Elrohir smiled, relishing the idea. “Valar, can you imagine it?” he asked Elladan.
Estel winced. “They’d have killed each other.”
“Probably,” Elladan agreed. “Between them they could have destroyed centuries of tentative peace and reignited the old wars.”
“Then I hope someone keeps him well away from Balin’s colony,” Estel muttered.
Bilbur snorted. “Oh, I don’t know – perhaps we should let him learn. If even Náin found it in himself to admit he could be wrong, this Rúmon should have the same opportunity.” She laughed. “Perhaps he could be appointed as an envoy or liaison between Moria and Lothlórien.
Estel blinked. Bilbur’s beard and deep-set eyes concealed a sharp, cunning mind – and her suggestion had a lot of merit.
Farin began to chuckle. “Devious, my sister – very devious! I like it.”
Elladan smiled. “Perhaps. Regretfully, that decision is not mine – it will lie with my grandparents. However, I am sure they will listen to suggestions. But now …” He sighed. “It is time to say farewell. You have our thanks for your help and advice – you will both always have a warm welcome in Imladris.”
“And you likewise.” Farin bowed, then took Elladan’s hand in his. “If you ever come to Erebor, say the name Farin, son of Dwalin, and you will be welcomed.”
Elladan nodded. “I will, my friend.”
“Or the name of Bilbur, daughter of Bila!” Bilbur added with a scowl at her brother.
“I will remember both your names,” Elladan vowed with a smile.
Farin shook Elrohir’s hand in his meaty fist, then turned to Estel.
With a heavy heart Estel gave his hand to the dwarf. “Goodbye.” He tried not to wince at the crushing grip, massaging his numb fingers once he was released. Bilbur grinned at him. Her own handshake was firm, but at least he could still feel his fingers.
With final farewells they parted and Farin and Bilbur trudged slowly along the northward trail.
As the path rounded a spur of the mountain the dwarves looked back a final time. Bilbur waved and then vanished from sight.
Elladan gazed after them. “Strange,” he mused. “Somehow she reminds me of – ” he glanced at Estel and stopped. “You are very quiet. So, what do you think of female dwarves now that you have finally met one?”
Drawn out of his swirling thoughts, Estel looked up. “She had a beard,” he said blankly.
Elrohir chuckled, and Estel found himself smiling in response. “She did indeed, little brother! Now will you believe us?”
“Occasionally. Very, very occasionally.”
Elladan laughed, clapped him on the back, and then bent to pick up his pack. “Come. We must go now – we still have to reach Lothlórien.” He pointed to a pair of tiny distant figures, just visible beneath the trees. “Look – there are Haldir and Orophin. They are waiting for us. We must reach Celeborn and Galadriel without further delay.”
Elrohir nodded in agreement. He stretched and rubbed at his grimy, bruised face. “And when we have done that,” he sighed, “I am going to bathe in the pools and then sleep for a week. Hurry up, Estel!”<>Estel smiled as he followed his brothers down the track towards the eaves of the golden wood.
Imladris, Four Weeks Later …
Dusk was falling as Estel and his brothers rode along the final stretch of woodland path. As their horses splashed across the stream Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a single glance and broke into a gallop, flying down the track and crouched low over their horses’ necks to avoid low growing branches.
Estel followed more slowly, leaving the mad chase to his brothers in their usual race to be the first to reach the courtyard. As he rode beneath the archway they had dismounted and were exchanging greetings with Glorfindel.
“Who won?” he asked, more out of habit than real curiosity.
“I did!” “He did,” they replied in unison.
“Which means that El – ” Elrohir broke off and looked up. “Father!”
Elrond appeared in the doorway. He hurried down the steps and managed to embrace all three at once. “Welcome home, my sons! I received your messages and news from Lórien, but I am glad to see you with my own eyes at last.” He hugged them again and then held Estel at arm’s length, studying him closely. “You have grown,” he observed. “And you look different.”
Elladan nodded, clasping Estel’s shoulder. “Our little brother has grown up,” he agreed. “And he has done well on this journey.”
“Very well,” Elrohir added.
Estel glanced at his brothers in pleased surprise, half expecting one of them to add a disparaging comment, but they were both smiling at him proudly.
“Your mother will hardly recognise you!” Elrond continued. “She will be sorry to have missed your arrival, Estel – she left a few days ago to see the weavers in Barlynch. They have developed some new dyes and she wanted to see the colours for herself.”
Estel felt oddly disappointed. “When is she due back?”
“Tomorrow, I hope. I know she will be delighted to see you. We read the report Elladan sent from Lórien, but I think there was much that was left unsaid. Bathe and change, and then join me for supper. I want to hear everything.”
Glorfindel joined them for supper, and he and Elrond listened in silence as the twins and Estel told their tale. The story switched from one to the other as they related everything that had happened, from the first vague feelings of disquiet to the drowning of the dragon and their eventual escape from Moria.
“A dragon?” Glorfindel asked at last. “Are you sure?”
Elladan shrugged. “It must have been. We never saw it, but the heat – the gouts of flame – the sense of evil – it must have been a dragon. It was certainly not orcs or trolls.”
Elrond nodded. “The flood may well have drowned it – but if not, it will reappear again. This year, next year; a hundred years from now. Dragons have long lives, and long memories. It will take time to rekindle its flame but it will return.”
“I will alert the patrols,” Glorfindel agreed. “And Thranduil should be warned as well. If it flees north it could be tempted to reclaim Smaug’s territory.”
Elladan gave a cold smile. “Do not worry about Thranduil. A warning has already been sent. Haldir found a messenger who was only too pleased to leave immediately.”
“Good. So, the dragon has been dealt with for now, and Celeborn and Thranduil duly warned to be on their guard.” Elrond leaned back in his chair. “And as for the rest of your news – Elrohir, I can scarcely believe that you were able to heal yourself. No healer I have ever heard of has been able to do so. It is a very remarkable achievement.”
Elrohir shrugged. “I had very little choice. I was desperate enough to try anything. But it was not me, it was Elladan. I used our bond to draw on his strength – without him I could never have done it. And without Estel I would not have lasted until Elladan reached us.” He stretched out a hand and ruffled Estel’s hair. “You showed great courage, little brother.”
“Courage?” Estel gaped at him. “Elrohir, I was petrified!”
“You pulled me out from beneath that rock fall and tended to my wounds until Elladan arrived.” Elrohir grinned. “And you drew a sword on him and stood between us to protect me in case he was an orc!”
Estel gave a reluctant smile, but shook his head. “I wasn’t brave,” he insisted. “I hated that place! And that water trap …” he swallowed. “I have never been so frightened in all my life. I thought I would die there, alone in the darkness.”
“And yet you went back in to help me rescue Bilbur,” Elladan said very quietly. “That is courage, Estel.”
Estel opened his mouth to protest again, but yawned instead. Elrohir laughed at him. “However brave he may be, our little brother still needs his sleep!” he teased.
Estel would have argued, but he found himself yawning again and knew it was time to concede defeat. He nodded. “You are right,” he admitted. It is late, and I am tired. Goodnight, then.” He stood and kissed Elrond. “Goodnight, father – I am glad to be home again.”<>“And I am glad to have you all here as well. Goodnight, Estel.”
As the door closed behind Estel Elrond gazed after him. “He has grown. Not just in height, but grown up.”
Elladan nodded. “Yes. We would not have escaped without him. He proved himself in so many ways – his courage, his tenacity, his quick-thinking. He is resourceful too, and is gaining the initiative and confidence to make his own decisions without waiting for our instructions. I am proud to call him brother – he proved himself a true son of Elrond.”
“He proved himself a true son of Arathorn, as well,” Elrohir agreed. “His father would be proud to see what he has become. Estel has come early to manhood, but I think he will be one of the greatest chieftains of the Dúnedain.” He paused and looked at Elrond. “The time has come to tell him who he is.”
Elrond nodded slowly. “Yes. Tomorrow I will give him his true name. He has earned it.”
“Aragorn son of Arathorn,” Glorfindel murmured. “And Estel no longer.”
Elrond shook his head, smiling. “No. He will always be Estel – and he will always be the hope of his people.”
Elrohir raised his glass. “So, then. To Estel!”First > Previous > Next